Best tech solution for learning a new area - gps, mapping, routing, etc

We are moving this summer to a new area. The last time I did this I frequently had to stop of the side of the road, whip out my iphone, figure out where I was and how to get somewhere else.

So, what’s the best solution to make this easier?

I have a Garmin 510 and have been thinking about an upgrade to a 530 or 830. It souds like the 530 is the way to go as you only get a touch screen and a couple of other minor features on the 830. The 830 does allow you to route to an address so I’m not sure if this would be helpful as this is not how one typically rides a bike.

Routing - I’ve only used routing a couple of times on my 510. It’s a pain to find the right file type, manually upload it to the Garmin and all that. Is this more automated on newer Garmins since they have wifi?

Software? -I could pay for Strava’s routing or use some other site if it’s better/easier. I’ve never had a lot of luck with Strava heatmaps. There doesn’t seem to be any way to figure out the top 10 or 20 road loops of various distances in a town.

I use Strava heatmaps to figure out routes between specific places, but for popular routes I’ve had a lot of luck finding a few local Strava clubs and creeping on everybody’s activities. From there you can start finding segments from the rides, and use the segments to find more people riding the same roads. I moved to a different country a few years ago, and that’s how I figured out where to ride without, you know, talking to people :sweat_smile:

(Algorithmically-driven solutions can be helpful, or they can just show you how everybody commutes to work, which may not be ideal for hobbyist riding.)


I definitely plan to find some groups/clubs to ride with. Spying on other’s training rides is a great idea!

I plan routes before going outside - best tools are

  • Strava heatmaps
  • striking up converations at local bike shops
  • joining clubs or finding a club page and looking at their routes (often on RideWithGPS)
  • talking to local riders

Strava’s new routing tools look interesting, that would be worth trying I guess.

I’m old school and just do some homework with emphasis on leveraging local knowledge and finding clubs that have webpages with standard club rides.

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As a vote for wahoo - in a pinch you can get a route straight to your head unit using the app on your phone ‘on the fly’.

Doesn’t help identify much in advance but it’s a nice feature for emergencies.

Garmin Connect (the web based version) has a pretty decent route builder. They have a heatmap function similar to Strava that I have had good luck with. I believe its called “Courses” and is somewhat hidden as it’s under the “Training” tab. It works really well with any Garmin computer that can navigate.

Another option I have used is, as some else stated, is to “creep” on some other local riders and look at some of their public rides. Strava has an option (which I think is still free) to create a route from a ride (basically re-trace someones exact ride). I think this is only an option on the web based version of Strava. On the left hand side of the screen of a public ride, there are 3 dots. Click on those 3 dots and it should allow you to choose “create route” and it will take the GPS cooordinates of that ride and recreate a GPX route for you. This might be a subscriber option but Strava is offering 60 days free right now.

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Yes, I used it a few weeks ago to navigate between two areas. One thing I noticed is it helps to specify Course Type:

Worked well for me, I made a short “connector” route to bridge between two familiar areas. Then when I got close, loaded that short route and navigated it for ~5 miles.

I’ll have to check out Garmin Connect more. I have all my data there as well as in Strava. I think I have enough inertia with them that I’m not willing to jump to Wahoo even though the Garmin experience has been frustrating at times.

I’m hoping that on a 530/830 that the on the fly routing using popular cycling routes would help. For example, I ride out with a general idea of where I want to go and then I pick another point on the map and then let the routing get me to the next point using the best cycling route since I won’t know each and every turn yet.

  1. Garmin Connect for generating random round-trip course with specified distance using popularity heatmap
  2. Export to Komoot for reviewing and fixing sectors with unsuitable road surface. Don’t know why but Garmin have sent me many times to terrible gravel roads even if road cycling is selected. Komoot is paid service, though. For me, it has been totally worth it.

step 1. go for a ride down some road that you know
step 2. turn when you see a cool road
step 3->?. ride, repeat step 2 occasionally
last step. use google maps to figure out how to get home


When i’m looking for routes in new areas when traveling I’ve had great luck with Strava. I find a few segments in an area I’d like to ride than head to the leader board. First off you can gauge how popular the segment is. Since local serious riders ride the same routes over and over, look for popular segments. Once you’ve found a few, go to the leader board and pick several entries and look at the ride files for the rides where the segment times were set. Doing this for several rides will very quickly show you the routes the locals ride and even when the ride those routes (e.g. every Saturday morning but rarely on weekday evenings, etc). The segment does not have to be epic, it just has to be one the locals hit regularly, that’s all you need to get keyed in to the local routes.

Heat maps are OK but roll in a lot of commutes and slower riders. My technique lets you see where people are working out.

The new strava route builder is the best I’ve seen. You can specify surface type as well as other options. And it uses the heat map.

You can also have your edge find a route. You choose the distance you want, then it will build 3 different options right on your device.

Use Strava segment search. Narrow down parameters so it only finds categorized climbs. Look at the leaderboards and click on everyones rides. Their public rides can be copied as your route. Works better if youre a Strava subscriber.

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I use Ride With GPS a lot for new routes or new areas.

It’s one weak point is that it doesn’t do a great job at differentiating gravel vs paved. In my previous region, this wasn’t an issue as 95% of roads were paved and the ones that weren’t were too rough for road bikes. But in my new area, there are many many light gravel roads and people will create routes that are both gravel and paved. So it may require a little research to verify the road surface.

RideWithGPS has a heatmap now! Woohoo!

Couple of things that work for me:

  • plan routes in advance, on a computer. The bigger screen (compared to a phone) helps with understanding the area. Create routes and put them on your garmin
  • if you’re in a country with good maps (like the UK OS maps), looking at a paper map is also great (but still create a route for your garmin)
  • I tend to ride the same route a couple of times, and once I’m familiar with the landmarks, I feel comfortable exploring other roads in that area. Other people like to get lost from the start
  • follow other riders, ask for routes, join a club and go on club rides (though I can never remember where we went when sitting in a group)
  • just use your phone :slight_smile:

I’d start with paper maps - they give you a great overview of the area. As @splash says it does depend on how good your national mapping agency is, here in the UK we are spoilt and have good mapping at all scales.

A bit of Googling to find out the bad neighbourhoods, everywhere has them so just mark them up as no-go areas.

Google Streetview helps to figure out if a road turns into a dirt track or a six lane highway!

What no tech, currently, can do is tell you if a road is a rat-run or used by boy racers, etc. You’ll just need a bit of time to figure things out, use your commute (car or bike) to learn that corridor.

Komoot, Komoot, Komoot all the way!

I’m a Komoot subscriber (one time fee for world maps). It’s amazing the detailed mapping and how easy to plan a route. It maps a lot of less known tracks. And is great splitting the surfaces types.

I find very easy to plan in Komoot, check in Google StreetView if I like the scenery, export GPX, drag and drop in Garmin Connect and go for a ride.

Can’t comment on Strava, but I find the GC heat map not so good - it’s more for commuters were I live.

I’ve noticed this too. Commuters in my area (Tokyo) tend to take the most direct (and hence most boring) route. Depending on my goals I’ve learned to look for those heat paths that are faint while avoiding the really hot/bright ones (unless I actually want the most direct route). This really helps with discovering forest roads that are not well-marked, especially if you are not a local or new to an area.